And Hell Followed With Him

Author's Note: This story was originally published in a zine of the same name in 1994 by Domino Press, and while it is mainly a 'War of the Worlds' story it does have a guest appearance by Roger Lococco of 'Wiseguy' fame. Enjoy :)


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Part 1

And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and
his name that sat on him was Death, and hell
followed with him. And power was given unto
them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill
with sword, and with hunger, and with death,
and with the beasts of the earth.

Revelations 6:8

The warehouse had been covered by silence when they had first attacked, yet the aliens had filtered out of the darkness with deadly ease. Ironhorse no longer commanded an unsuspecting unit, however, and as one they fought the enemy with deadly accuracy.

Ironhorse motioned Derriman down one crate-packed aisle while he scouted another, his machine gun at the ready to repel an attack. He was pleased that, for once, Blackwood had agreed to wait outside in the van until the warehouse had been cleared and, as Ironhorse had stated, it was purely a wipeout and clean up operation.

The attack when it came was swift and deadly, the creature dropping on him from above. He yelled in anger and felt his gun slip from his fingers, to clatter some distance away. He reached for his battle baton, but was not given the opportunity to use it as he was lifted into the air and slammed forcibly against the crated wall, his head impacting hard and his senses whirling.

He heard the material of his uniform rip and let out a strangled cry. The hand about his throat tightened, blocking off precious air. His legs kicked uselessly above the ground.

He felt cold, slimy fingers touch his body, reaching, probing into his exposed chest, just by his left shoulder. His struggles and cries increased. If this alien merged with him, then the Blackwood Project would be open to attack. He whimpered as the hand melded with his flesh, a coldness seeming to flow from its fingertips as it clawed deeper.

Along with the seeping chill, there crept a deadly lassitude and a detachment from the events.

He looked into the cyclops face of the creature and a frown crossed his features; this was wrong. His eyes slipped to the hand fading into his flesh. Slowly his glance came up to look beyond the alien. He saw a man creeping towards them, a knife gleaming in his hand, then the weapon flashed in the light and the creature reared back, pulling its hand from its intended victim, who also cried out and crumpled to the ground.

As the alien staggered back, Derriman pumped bullets into its fast-dissolving body.

When he stopped, he rushed to his commander, who half-sat half-slumped against the wall in rag doll fashion.

As Derriman reached him, he yelled into his radio, "Medic, we need a medic, the colonel's down."

The sound echoed and vibrated around the fallen man, then twisted into a distant sound that gradually faded.

***

Harrison stopped his pacing and returned once more to the tossing figure upon the bed. It had been two days since the attack at the warehouse.

He sat down, remembering the words that had cut into his stomach, leaving him feeling sick: "Medic, we need a medic, the colonel's down."

Those words had caused him to abandon the van and charge into the warehouse, heedless of his own safety.

He reached Derriman at the same time as the medic. The open bleeding wound on Ironhorse's chest, and the bubbling remains of an alien told their own story and he fell to his knees, reaching out a shaky hand to touch the pale face of the man who was held securely in the sergeant's arms.

Harrison's eyes met those of Derriman, who shook his head in helplessness.

The medic was on the other side of Ironhorse, working feverishly to apply a dressing over the weeping wound, which still oozed alien slime. The colonel scarcely seemed to be breathing. As the medic pressed the dressing against the wound, the colonel arched up and cried out, hand feebly groping. Harrison caught the flailing hand. "Hold on there Paul, you're safe now." There was no response to his words as Ironhorse slipped into a comatose state.

He had remained unconscious until a few hours ago, when he had awakened totally disoriented. He had gasped for water, which he sipped sparingly, then tumbled back into a fevered sleep.

The doctor, Douglas Mitchell, had been unwilling to let him remain at the Cottage, but both Harrison and Suzanne had been firm about that. They had a competent medical unit on site, and Suzanne wanted to be able to monitor his responses with frequent blood tests - and to do that, she needed her laboratory. Because of the nature of both the attack and the Project, her uncle had reluctantly agreed to their demands and requested that the doctor remain until the situation was under control.

Harrison sat back on the chair beside the bed. He had spent the last two days in the colonel's room, except for the short periods of sleep which the others had forced him to take.

He began to bite his lips, his nervous energy seeking a form of release. He could not shake the feeling of guilt; if he had been there, this would not have happened. He was convinced that he could have prevented it.

The colonel drew a shuddering breath and mumbled incoherently, his tousled hair and fevered face giving him a vulnerable look that frightened Harrison, who reached out to clasp his hand.

Suzanne entered the room, needle and swabs ready to take another vial of blood. "Any change?" she enquired quietly, as if to raise her voice would awaken the sleeping man. She placed her equipment down and rested a hand upon Ironhorse's brow. His face turned into her touch as if seeking its cold comfort.

Harrison shook his head and, reaching over, wrung out the cloth that had been laying across the colonel's forehead. He gently replaced it when Suzanne removed her hand, a frown still playing about her intelligent face. "I'll feel a lot better once he wakes," she commented, preparing his arm for the needle. Both noticed the shiver which racked his body when she removed the arm from beneath the blankets.

With cold efficiency she took the required amount of blood, then gently replaced the arm to its original resting place.

"Will you be changing the dressing this time?" he asked, motioning towards the chest wound. Each time it had been done, it had thrown the wounded man into a fighting frenzy, as if the pain it caused went so deep it ripped into his unconscious state. By the time they had finished, all concerned were breathing hard, trying to suppress the trauma it caused.

Suzanne shook her head. "Dr Mitchell is sleeping at the moment and I don't want to wake him." She paused, then added, "He was up most of the night." She turned away and headed towards the door, finishing, "I'll run this through and see what I get, then I'll come back."

Harrison nodded, not stating that he was aware of the hours the doctor had put in the night before as he had been there with him.

Suzanne suddenly stopped, realising what she had said about the doctor. "I'm sorry, I guess the waiting is getting to me."

Harrison looked towards their patient and replied, "Why doesn't he wake up?" He spoke with helpless anguish and Suzanne had to swallow the lump in her throat. He seemed so lost whenever Ironhorse was injured, as if a vital part of his essence was lying wounded on the bed along with the colonel.

She reached out, saying, "We have no way of knowing the full effect of a meld that is not completed. He might even wake up none the worse for his ordeal," she added hopefully, knowing that neither of them really believed that would happen.

"I should have been there Suzanne, I could have prevented it," he berated himself in anger.

Suzanne felt her own anger rise and answered hotly, "And done what, Harrison? You refuse to carry a weapon." She paused, knowing that they had had this argument many times before. "It could have been worse, the alien might have killed you both outright instead of trying to merge." She stopped, seeing the man before her wilt with each word. "Oh, Harrison, I'm sorry," she cried again, pulling him into a hug. "I'm just so frightened of losing you both."

He returned her hug, grateful for the warm support. He closed his eyes, knowing also that what she said was true.

He opened them and started away from her when his glance was caught and held by a pair of dark onyx orbs that were watching them intently from a fevered face.

"Paul," he cried, moving to his side and clasping his hand.

"I'll get Dr Mitchell," Suzanne said, hurrying from the room.

"What happened?" Ironhorse asked, surprised at how weak his voice sounded.

Blackwood smiled and, reaching out a hand, pushed back the stray lock that had fallen into Ironhorse's eyes. "You were attacked by an alien."

Ironhorse tried to push himself off the bed. "Alien... tried to take over..." He got no further as a rending pain from his shoulder choked off his voice, and he lay crippled by the intense agony his action had caused. He gritted his teeth and hissed out a breath, feeling his eyes start to weep and sweat gather upon his brow.

Blackwood gently wiped his face and murmured words of comfort. He noticed some of the tension ease from his friend's frame and continued his actions until the others arrived.

Ironhorse finally opened his eyes to see a stranger leaning over him. He pulled back in confusion and again the pain flooded in, threatening his consciousness.

"Paul, this is Dr Mitchell, he's here to care for you. General Wilson sent him," Blackwood explained, still gripping the other's hand.

Ironhorse nodded and returned his clasp weakly, his eyes silently pleading with the other man to stay.

Blackwood caught and understood the look. "I'm not going anywhere," he stated firmly, daring the doctor to say otherwise.

Dr Mitchell looked up, saw the clasped hands and nodded. "I think it would be best if you stayed. This will be painful enough as it is," he finished as he snapped a pair of surgical gloves on, and as gently as he could began to remove the dressing.

Ironhorse yelled and arched up, pain flaring anew. Tears were forced out from behind his tightly closed eyelids. "God," he gritted. "Stop, just stop," he pleaded, agony ripping into his weakened body. He would have struggled, tried to get away from the efficiently probing fingers, but his energy was fading fast.

"Doctor," cried Blackwood, making a grab for the writhing body. Dr Mitchell snatched up a needle he had ready; he had been hoping to do the examination without the aid of drugs, but the pain was too intense. He injected it swiftly and stood back, watching it take effect, saying, "This is only half a dose, Suzanne assures me that it will not react with the alien toxin." He paused again, watching the body before him slowly relax. "We can't sedate him totally, it would be too dangerous at this stage."

Ironhorse felt the pain ebb from his body, and a feeling of well being began to seep into its place. He smiled gently up into Blackwood's tormented expression and swallowed, trying to fight the drug, but in his weakened condition it was too strong. He smiled again, it made no difference anyway.

He only flinched when the doctor returned to his examination. As the dressing was peeled back, he wrinkled his nose at the smell that assailed him. Although the dressing's removal still caused him pain, it was a detached feeling.

Ironhorse's mind drifted back over his last really conscious thought of feeling like this, and he saw Derriman creeping up behind the alien... but this was wrong... it was Suzanne who stood behind the man who was working over his wound, probing it. He jerked up when the doctor touched a painful area, but drifted back down with a sigh.

"This is not right," mumbled Dr Mitchell, cleaning the wound and packing it with antibiotics. "It should at least be showing signs of healing." He replaced the dressing with a clean one, then placed a thermometer in his patient's mouth. It kept slipping out, and Blackwood took it up and held it in position under the other man's tongue.

Ironhorse tried to push it out from its uncomfortable place, but Blackwood touched his face and, after gaining his attention, requested, "Don't, we need to do this." He gently replaced it. Paul sighed and closed his eyes. If Blackwood was doing it, it must be alright. He let it stay, only opening his eyes when it was removed.

"It's too high," the doctor said, writing the reading down. "We had better try to get some more fluid into him, I think it's going to be a long night."

"I'll just get this blood down to the lab," Suzanne said. Moving forward, she clasped his hand in a quick squeeze. "I'll be back soon, you hang in there Paul." Then, picking up her equipment, she left the room.

Ironhorse felt a shiver go through his body then realised that he did not feel too good. "I feel sick," he informed the others and, jerking up, nearly fell from the bed.

Blackwood caught him and quickly took the bowl that Dr Mitchell thrust in his direction. He held both it and the other man as he heaved and groaned into the receptacle.

Ironhorse finally finished and lay back, exhausted. He let his eyes close and floated along with the drug, it took too much energy to do anything else. He could still hear them talking above him, but he let their words float over him.

"Well, Doctor?" Blackwood queried upon his return from the bathroom.

"We'll have to wait until Suzanne does this next set of tests. We know that the wound should be closing..." he paused, "but it isn't, and that indicates that there's still some alien cells preventing the natural healing process."

"What can we do?" Blackwood asked, moving to sit back beside Ironhorse. Before Dr Mitchell could answer, he went on in a quiet voice, "The infection is spreading, isn't it?" Mitchell sighed and, pulling off the gloves, sat down opposite the tall man. "If infection is the right word. We really don't know what's causing the..." he shrugged his shoulders, "...infection, but yes, it is spreading, and I don't know where we go from here. We might be able to operate and remove the affected area, but how much is affected? How deep would we have to go?"

He stopped; he could feel the intense look of the other man as it fixed upon his features. "If we don't remove enough, the infection will still be there. If we take too much... he could lose the use of his arm." He threw up his hands. "For all we know the infection may have gone that deep already."

"Oh God." Harrison held his head in his hands. This could not be happening; if Ironhorse lost the use of his arm, his career would be over and, in effect, so would his life. "Isn't there another way?"

"Well, that depends on Suzanne. She said something about Canada and disappeared into her lab last night, but what for I don't know. Otherwise, it's the operation."

"No... no operation," came a weak voice from the bed. "Not lose my arm..." Ironhorse spoke from clenched teeth. "I'll never submit to that."

"Paul," Blackwood reached out a hand, but Ironhorse pulled his own hand away.

"Damn you Blackwood, I said no. Can't you understand? What will I be if I lose my arm?"

"It might not come to that," Dr Mitchell tried to reassure Ironhorse, not liking the effect this conversation was having on the injured man.

Ironhorse gave him a cold look and asked, "Can you guarantee that?" Receiving no reply, he yelled, "Damn you, you can't, can you?"

"Now, Colonel," began Dr Mitchell, reaching out to prevent him doing any more damage to himself.

"Keep your hands off me," yelled the Cherokee, struggling even more against the others' holds.

"Paul," Blackwood cautioned. "You'll only make things worse." He too was holding the weakly struggling man. He looked towards Dr Mitchell, who just shook his head and continued to wrestle with his patient.

As suddenly as it started, the fighting stopped; all energy drained from the man beneath their hands and he lay still. As they looked at him, they saw a single tear force its way out and flow down his pale cheek. "Damn you, damn you all," he kept repeating under his breath, until exhaustion claimed him and he slipped into an uneasy sleep.

Mitchell sat back down and raised a shaking hand to wipe his brow. "If he's going to expend that amount of energy every time he wakes, we're going to lose him."

"And the operation?" Blackwood asked, his face just as pale as the man's upon the bed.

"I'd best have a word with General Wilson on that one. If Ironhorse is this set against it, we can't just go ahead and do it. I don't really know. General Wilson does have the authority to override Ironhorse's wishes - this is, in effect, a battle situation - but... I don't know."

Taking a deep, steadying breath, he stood up and made for the door. "It might be best if he wasn't left alone," he advised. Blackwood gave him a long, hard look then, turning back to the bed, replied, "I wasn't planning on going anywhere, Doctor."

Dr Mitchell watched the scene for a few moments then, sighing, he opened the door and left. He would have to speak to Suzanne about Blackwood, otherwise they could very well have two patients on their hands.

***

When next Ironhorse awoke, it was to an empty room. He knew a moment of fear before he realised that he was still in his own room at the Cottage. They had not yet moved him to the hospital for the operation. He also knew that they would do so, and that he would have no say in the matter.

He tried to move and was pleased to note that it was not as painful as it had been the night before. The sun was shining in through the window and it seemed to brighten his outlook.

He moved again, this time attempting to sit up. He gritted his teeth and held back the groan that bit at his lips. It was not easy, but he managed it: the pain was bearable. Reaching down, he removed the IV from his arm.

He sat and panted for a few moments, letting the adrenalin flow about his body, then climbed from the bed. He sat on its edge for a few more seconds, his hand over the dressing. He suppressed a cough and grimaced when white hot pain flared through him.

He cautiously tried to stand and was pleased the room did not tilt about him as he expected. He took this as a sign of good luck and headed slowly towards his wardrobe. Reaching in, he removed his training sweat suit and, sitting on one of the room's chairs, he proceeded to dress himself. He was clumsy and felt frustration climb within him. He knew that he might get caught at any moment; the fact that he was alone now was only an oversight.

He took a few more deep breaths, then retrieved his battle baton and tomahawk, along with an automatic gun that he always kept near, and headed towards the door. He slowly opened it and looked out. Seeing no one, he headed towards the stairs. He would have liked to use the elevator, but knew that it might alert the others.

He carefully made his way down the stairs, stopping every few steps to listen for sounds of anyone approaching. He was taking it slowly because he knew that, if he tried to rush, he would only end up flat on his face, and then in an operating room. He stopped when he reached the hallway. He had not really planned his escape and, even now, it was only luck that had got him this far. As he stood, he heard the sound of raised voices coming from Blackwood's office. From the tone, it was quite heated.

"...so the operation may be the only way," he heard Norton's voice finish.

"No, there has to be another way." Paul smiled at Blackwood's determined tone. "I can't believe that you haven't been able to pin this alien infection down."

"Harrison," cried Suzanne in anguish. "I'm still running tests... I'm going as fast as I can. Now, if you got me a live alien, we could get somewhere."

"Suzanne, don't you think I would if I could?" snapped back the astrophysicist.

A strange voice broke into the middle of their argument. "I don't think this is really helping anyone. Suzanne is doing the best she can, and I know that Dr Blackwood is concerned for the mental effect this operation could have on Colonel Ironhorse. To tell you the truth, so am I, but we don't really have much choice."

Ironhorse shook his head and felt his lips tighten; they were discussing him. 'Well to hell with them, it was his arm and his life'. He moved away from the sound of the voices and opened the front door. He inched out and glanced about.

No guard. Again anger rose in him; he had left standing orders that if ever he was injured and unable to protect the others, a permanent guard was to be posted by the front door. He made a mental note to inform a certain member of his squad of this, when and if he ever got back. They should remember it after a few laps of the grounds.

He saw the cars and was grateful for his long-standing command about keys being kept with the vehicles whilst they were at the Cottage; it saved time if they were hot on the trail of the enemy.

He considered taking the Bronco, but dismissed it as being too easy to follow. He apologised to Suzanne and moved to her car. It was small, compact and would easily get lost in a crowd.

He relaxed against the seat for a few moments. He was not sure how he had managed to get this far, but realised that most of his energy came from the fear of losing his arm. It was driving him on. He could feel the sweat running down his face and across his chest, the trembling of his legs and arm, but he let the discomfort flow over him. He would not give in to it.

He gritted his teeth as he started the car, knowing that if he was discovered now, the main Cottage members could call the guard house and prevent him from leaving. If he could only get to the main gates he could use the handheld remote control to open them before they realised who it was.

He one-handedly manoeuvred the car away from the Cottage. He tried not to think that this might be the last time he would see it, or the fact that he was going AWOL. He might lose his career because of this stunt. Looking down at the arm that lay uselessly across his lap, he took a deep breath. He would rather lose his job or his life, than a limb. It was a fear that was buried deep within his Indian self. He had always been aware of this fear and had accepted it, hoping that if ever he was injured, it would mean death instead of this.

He swallowed down the sickness he felt in his stomach and decided not to think about it. He kept his eyes fixed firmly upon the road ahead and gave silent thanks to his grandfather that Suzanne had taken to driving a smaller car with power steering.

Suddenly the main gate loomed in front of him and he reached out with his bad arm to hold the wheel while he punched in the security code for the gate, which slowly began to open. Through the white hot pain of using his arm, he saw one of his men run from the guard house and begin to wave him down, the gate already starting to close. He pushed his foot down harder against the gas pedal and knew that his man would get out of the way. He shot through the gate to the sound of metal catching metal, then he was speeding down the road.

He knew he had to concentrate on the road ahead and that he would have to hide the car as soon as he could. He thanked the gods once again that he had had the foresight to establish another safe house, not too far from the Cottage. It was really a staging post, in case they ever had to leave the main base in a hurry and, as it had only recently been set up, he had not yet informed General Wilson of its location. He frowned when he remembered that he had mentioned it once to Blackwood, then dismissed the notion. It had been a few weeks ago, and the astrophysicist had relegated it to the back of his mind, saying that it was the colonel's job to keep them safe.

***

The heated discussion was still underway in Blackwood's office when the phone rang. Norton picked it up, seeing that no one else made a move towards it; they were too involved in the argument to even hear it. Norton held his hand over his ear, then cried in astonishment, "What?"

That got everybody's attention and silence fell across the room. Slowly Norton replaced the receiver, his face stricken as he looked at the others. Blackwood could not contain himself any longer and enquired, "Well?"

"That was the front gate. Ironhorse just left here in Suzanne's car." His voice was full of disbelief.

"That's impossible," Suzanne said. "Paul wouldn't be able to get out of bed, let alone leave the house."

Blackwood did not hear her finish; he was out of his office and had taken the stairs three at a time as he rushed to the colonel's room. He slammed the door open and stared at the empty, rumpled bed. He turned to leave and nearly fell over Dr Mitchell.

"He's moving on painkillers from the IV," stated Dr Mitchell.

"Once that wears off..." he shrugged.

"I'm calling the squad out, he couldn't have gone far," Blackwood said, pushing past the other man and heading back downstairs. "Norton, contact the local police and put out a stolen auto on Suzanne's car," he said as soon as he entered the room, reaching for the phone.

"Is that wise?" queried the black man, coming to a stop before his friend.

"I want him found as soon as possible, and if putting out an APB gets him found, then we'll do it and argue the finer points later."

"Gotcha, Doc, but don't blame me if Ironhorse uses you for target practice when he's better."

"Norton, I would welcome the opportunity for him to do that." He paused, then emphasised, "As long as it means we get him back. Now go."

Suzanne waited until Blackwood had finished speaking into the phone before asking, "Anything I can do?"

"Yes, get together with Dr Mitchell and have three medical kits made up. This stunt isn't going to do his shoulder any good." She turned to go, but was stopped as he carried on, "Omega squad are sending out three search parties, I think it would be best if you, Dr Mitchell and I each accompanied one group."

"Okay," she said and, seeing Dr Mitchell standing in the door, scooped his arm into hers. "Come on, Doctor, we have work to do."

It took about seven minutes for the three groups to get ready and arrive at the main house. It was seven minutes too long as far as Blackwood was concerned. He waited impatiently for Mitchell and Suzanne to appear. She handed him a bag and said, "There's a painkiller and a sedative in there, along with some more dressing." Then, jumping into one of the cars, she called, "Good luck."

***

That had been six hours ago, and they had only called off the search after darkness made it impossible to continue.

All three groups had returned to the Cottage in a state of depression. Blackwood neither acknowledged nor spoke to anyone as he entered the house. He was still carrying the medical bag and entered his office, locking the door behind him. All had seen the exhaustion and fear in his eyes.

During dinner he appeared and asked if anything had come in from the police about the stolen car. Norton shook his head and Blackwood went on, "We'll continue searching in the morning." "I think General Wilson should be informed," said Dr Mitchell quietly, knowing that he was not the most popular man as far as Blackwood was concerned.

That earned him a sharp look from Blackwood, who finally commented, "You do what you think best. Get a good night's sleep everyone, I want us up early in the morning." Then, turning, he left the room.

"What is it with that guy?" Mitchell enquired, looking towards the others.

"Don't ask," Norton said, smiling. "He spends two thirds of his time rubbing the colonel up the wrong way, but if the Big Guy gets injured, he goes over the top with the mother hen routine."

"I put it down to the fact that he won't carry a gun," Suzanne said, pushing her food about the plate. "Almost as if any injury Paul suffers is his fault," she finished, looking down at her half-eaten food. Sighing, she placed her napkin over the plate and, rising, commented, "I'm going to the lab. I have a few tests I want to run."

As she left, Norton frowned. "I guess it's getting to us all. I mean, Ironhorse isn't the type to just go off; he's really hot on security and all that stuff."

"Maybe he's facing a bigger fear now," commented Mitchell, looking pointedly at Norton's wheelchair.

Seeing the look, Norton agreed. "Yeah, it's funny what things people fear deep down inside. Me, I hate needles. As a kid they would do all kinds of tests - you know, sticking needles in my legs and back. Funny thing is, I can't feel a thing, but just seeing those needles go in used to scare the hell out of me."

Reaching across, Mitchell touched his hand and said, "We'll find him, don't worry."

Norton looked up and smiled; it was a big, cheerful, false smile. "Me, I'm not worried. What the hell, if I had a choice of either facing my fears or leaving, I don't think I would want to be found." So saying, he wheeled from the room. Mitchell heard the elevator a few seconds later and could tell by the noise that it was headed downwards, towards the computer and the lab. Sighing, he looked at his half-eaten plate of food then, realising that the others would not get any sleep that night, he stood up and went to join them in the lab.

***

Harrison sat in his office looking up at the ceiling, his mind going back over the last few days. It had been a living nightmare and now it had gone from bad to worse.

He still could not believe that Ironhorse had left the Cottage. Where would he go? The car had not been found, and he doubted if Ironhorse could make it very far; his getting out of the Cottage had been close on a miracle.

He stood up and began to pace the room. There was something nagging at him: even while he had been with the Omega squad, it had felt wrong, like he was not turning over the right card in a game of poker. He was missing something important, and it was starting to annoy him.

He took out his tuning fork and hit it on the desk. Closing his eyes, he ran it past his ear. Frowning, he did it again; the answer was definitely there, but just outside his normal thought patterns.

Suddenly it came flooding back: it had happened in his office a few weeks previously. The colonel had entered to discuss another safe house near to the Cottage... Ironhorse had called it a staging post: it was designed for easy access and full cover, in case they needed to get away from the Cottage in a hurry.

Gripping his fork tightly in one hand, he started to head from the room then paused, his fingers upon the handle. If he told the others they would still be in the same position, except that Ironhorse would feel even more trapped.

He slowly went back to his chair and sat down. He was almost certain that Ironhorse would be at the house; could he leave now and not tell the others? His eyes fell upon the medical bag and he made up his mind. Grabbing his coat and the bag, he headed out of the house.

He planned to talk the colonel into returning with him. He felt sure that once he explained what Suzanne was working on, and how much they... he... needed him, he could talk the other man into returning.

***

As Harrison pulled into the drive, he spotted Suzanne's car parked under the car port. He took a deep breath and slowly let it out. He felt giddy with relief. He saw that there were no lights on in the house and, slowly, he got out of the car, pulling the medical bag out after him. He cautiously headed towards the house, his heart beating loudly in his ears.

The door was slightly ajar and he felt a jolt of fear ripple through him. Had the aliens found Ironhorse? Was he now within their clutches? Slowly he pushed it open; it was too dark to see inside.

Reaching out a hand, he fumbled for a light switch. Suddenly light flooded the room and he started forward as he saw Ironhorse sprawled across the floor by the fireplace. He could only have made it in the door before his strength had given out.

Blackwood reached out a shaking hand and felt for a pulse; it was there, steady but weak... so weak. He turned the colonel over, his face was pale. Blackwood's first instinct was to call for assistance, but his hand stopped on its way to the phone. It was a good chance that Ironhorse was only suffering from exhaustion and he could cope with that.

Standing up, he closed the front door and locked it. Then, switching on the stair lights, he moved upstairs to find a bedroom where he could care for his friend. He chose the front bedroom, as it had the en-suite bathroom and the larger bed. Moving back downstairs, he gathered his strength then, lifting

Ironhorse, he made his way carefully upstairs.

Ironhorse groaned as he was moved and gritted his teeth in pain, but he did not waken. Blackwood gently lowered him onto the bed and started to strip him. Soon he had him warmly entrenched in the bed, the blankets pulled up about the shivering body. Blackwood laid a hand across Ironhorse's brow; he still had a fever and the wound was weeping, a stain now lay across the dressing. Reaching over, he began to unpack the medical bag and sent a silent note of thanks to Suzanne when he found everything he would need, including a strong painkiller.

It took him twenty minutes to get the colonel settled. Cleaning the wound had been a strain on both of them, and Blackwood sat back drained. He had only watched Mitchell and Suzanne do it, this was the first time he had had to wipe the ooze and pus away, and it left him feeling weak and sick. Ironhorse had groaned and thrashed upon the bed, but his exhaustion was such that he had not struggled too much, so Blackwood had been able to apply a new dressing without too much trouble.

Glancing at his watch, Blackwood noted that he had missed three of his naps. He suppressed a yawn; he could not afford to sleep now, Ironhorse might need him, and he was determined to be there when the other man awoke... if for no other reason than to give him a piece of his mind about the stunt of leaving the Cottage. He pulled a chair up next to the bed and sat down. He intended to keep a very careful watch on the other man, but soon his own exhaustion caught up with him and he drifted off to sleep.

***

Ironhorse awoke to a feeling of peace. His flight from the Cottage was now a distant, nightmarish memory: he had begun to realise, as he drove, that his feeling of well-being was due to the massive dosage of painkiller that he had been given and, as time passed, so the agony returned.

He could remember arriving at the safe house but, after that, his memory failed him. A frown marred his features. He was not in any great pain; his shoulder was aching, but it was like a backwater pain and only really caused him concern if he actually thought about it. He felt comfortable.

The thought that he had been found and returned to the Cottage filtered into this dreamlike state. He slowly opened his eyes; this was not his room. He turned his head and met Blackwood's piercing blue eyes as they smiled at him.

He suppressed a groan; this man had a homing-like ability when it came to him. He seemed to be able to turn up just when he was not wanted.

"How are you feeling?" Blackwood asked.

"Where am I?" he returned, choosing to ignore the other's question.

"At your safe house."

"How?" He stopped and closed his eyes, if Blackwood did not stop grinning in smug satisfaction he might be forced to hit the guy.

"I remembered our little talk about this place and thought it was worth a try."

"Where are the others?" he asked, coughing slightly at the dryness in his throat and mouth.

Blackwood moved forward and offered a drink. Ironhorse gratefully accepted it and, when finished, he lay back, trying not to notice the shaking in his body. "Well?" he questioned further.

The smile left Blackwood's face and he sat back and gave the colonel an angry look. "I didn't tell them where I was going. I thought it would be better if we had a little talk first."

"Why do I get the feeling that it's going to be you doing the talking?" Ironhorse commented drily.

"Because that's the way it's going to be." Blackwood stopped, surprised at the flood of anger he felt towards the man who lay before him. Taking a steadying breath, he went on, "I always gave you a certain amount of intelligence, but yesterday it was seriously lacking."

Ironhorse made to answer the accusation, but Blackwood ploughed on, not letting him.

"The stunt you pulled goes beyond stupidity. What if I hadn't remembered about this place? You could be dead now." Blackwood stopped, his own fears of the day before surfacing with frightening intensity.

Ironhorse went to reach out to the other's obvious pain, but his hand was ignored. "We're working our butts off back there," he motioned in the general direction of the Cottage. "The least you could do is stick around and let us do our jobs."

"Your jobs?" interrupted Ironhorse, his own anger rising. "Your job seems to be making decisions that concern _§my_§ life - get that mister, my life. I can make my own choices, and I choose not to have that operation. I heard you yesterday discussing me like I was some experimental rat in the cage. Well, no thank you Harrison, I do things my way." Ironhorse fell back onto the bed, panting in pain. Gritting his teeth, he finished, "Suzanne said that she needed a live alien, so that's what I'm going to get her."

Blackwood stared at him, his face registering total shock. "A live alien?" he questioned, wondering where the hell Ironhorse had picked that up from. He closed his eyes as he remembered his argument with Suzanne of the day before. "Paul, that's not what she meant."

"The hell it is, I'm going to get her that alien, or die trying, and that's the only two options I'm prepared to look at," he said, glaring at the man before him.

Blackwood made to reply, then stopped. He took in Ironhorse's worn appearance and his flushed face, the tensed muscles, his harsh breathing. This discussion was making Ironhorse's condition worse. Ironhorse was not in full command of his senses at the moment, the fever was affecting him.

Standing up, Blackwood pulled the covers back over the injured man and said calmly, "Paul, I may not totally agree with you, but I am willing to go along with your decision." He felt the body under his hands relax.

"We'll do this together, Harrison."

Blackwood returned the smile he did not feel and answered, "Yes, of course we will. Now you try and get some rest."

He could see that Ironhorse wanted to continue the talk, but his energies would not permit him. Blackwood waited until sleep claimed his friend, then he left the room, his mind in turmoil. He had called the Cottage earlier, informing them that he had found the colonel. At first they had wanted him to return with Ironhorse, but Blackwood had overridden that idea. Instead it had been agreed that he would return to the Cottage when General Wilson arrived, and they would make a decision then. He could not shake the feeling that he was betraying his friend, but he knew that, in his present state, the Cherokee Indian was not thinking straight. His flight from the Cottage proved that his mental state was precarious.

Picking up the phone, he put through another call to the Cottage and informed them of the recent events, and Ironhorse's intention of going after an alien. The silence that greeted this statement informed him that he was right to be concerned. Even if they managed to get Ironhorse's wounds healed, there was no way of knowing how the recent events would leave his mental state.

***

Ironhorse waited until he heard the door close before he opened his eyes. He continued to listen as he lay there; he could make out Blackwood's footsteps as he went down the stairs. Ironhorse let out a small sigh. He tentatively raised his bad arm. It caused a ripple of pain to filter through the painkillers, but he could use it if he had to. He slowly sat up and pulled back the sheets. A feeling of unease settled in his stomach; he could not believe that Blackwood had not told the others that he had found him. It just was not in Blackwood's personality to let them worry needlessly.

He made his way to the door and, as quietly as possible, pulled it open. He edged along the corridor towards the top of the stairs, his memory going back to the day before when he had done exactly the same thing in his escape from the Cottage. As he approached the stairs, he could hear Blackwood talking in the lounge below. He leaned against the wall and listened.

"No... he's sleeping at the moment... I gave him the painkillers and he's looking a lot better than he ought to after yesterday's escapade... No, I don't think he will come back willingly... I don't want to push him on this... I know that... General Wilson will just have to understand... No, I'll keep the sedative for that..."

Ironhorse leant against the wall, his eyes closed, face drawn in lines of pain, but not from his wound. "Damn you, Harrison," he whispered under his breath then, turning, he made his way back to his room.

As he entered, he noticed the medical bag on the side. He made his way over to it and dug out the offending sedative. His first reaction was to fling it against the wall, but then his cool reasoning asserted itself. He needed Blackwood to believe that he had given him the drug. Moving to the bathroom, he carefully exchanged water for the clear liquid of the drug. By the time Blackwood returned he was once more in bed.

Blackwood placed a gentle hand upon Ironhorse's brow. Moving to the medical bag he prepared the injection. He had finished his conversation on the phone by agreeing to return to the Cottage to discuss the matter with General Wilson, who would be arriving within the hour. Suzanne had informed Blackwood of the exact amount of the drug to give the injured man to keep him unconscious for the next three hours. That, Blackwood surmised, would be long enough for him to do what he had to do and return. Ironhorse flinched as Blackwood pushed the needle home, but did not open his eyes. Blackwood waited a few more moments until he was certain that the drug had taken effect then, placing the blankets more firmly about his patient, he slowly stood up and left the room.

Ironhorse tried to hide the smile that filtered across his face at the door's closing. He had to act fast. He was aware that the homing beacon in the Bronco would have led General Wilson and the Omegans right to the safe house, and he suspected that the only reason they had not raided the place and carted him off to Fort Streeter was because of Blackwood. The man had an almost pathological dislike for the military, and General Wilson had a healthy respect for that and no doubt planned to offer his return to Fort Streeter as a fait accompli.

He heard the Bronco pull out of the drive and, standing up, moved to the window and watched it out of sight. Turning, he then reached for the phone that was sitting beside the bed. Picking it up, he dialled; the answer was almost immediate.

"Ironhorse here, meet me at the Santa Fe bus depot... about half an hour... No, I'll explain when I see you." He replaced the phone and, getting up, he hunted out some clothes.

Five minutes later he was manoeuvring Suzanne's car out of the drive and heading towards downtown San Francisco.

***

"...I will not tell you where he is, not if you're insisting that he has to go to Fort Streeter," yelled Harrison, anger in every movement as he paced the room.

General Wilson watched him with cold compassion. "Dr Blackwood, I can understand how you feel, indeed Ironhorse is one of my best men. Yet, it still remains that he is a security risk; if he is captured and the cell phase matching is completed, he will supply the aliens with invaluable information about this Project and all the people involved."

Harrison slipped down into a chair. "We are working on a cure, just give us that time. I'll keep him at the safe house and..." he paused, seeing that his words had no effect upon the general.

"And if no cure can be found? Ironhorse is a very sick man, and every day we leave it the contamination is spreading," Wilson said gently.

"If we are no nearer to a cure... in, say, a week, I'll deliver him to Fort Streeter myself," Blackwood finally conceded. "And I will not let him out of my sight until that time, so he will not be the security risk you seem to think he is."

Wilson looked towards Suzanne and Dr Mitchell. "Do you think you can find a cure without operating?" he questioned.

"It's very hard to say. The operation would be effective immediately," Dr Mitchell replied cautiously, looking towards Suzanne.

She shook her head and argued, a slight catch in her voice, "I'm trying to discover if it was just the electricity, or the combination of water and electricity that prevented the aliens from dissolving in Canada. We didn't find any alien cells in those bodies, though we know that they had been converted. Then, if we can judge the amount of energy needed to destroy the infection, we might be able to cure Paul without an operation." She paused, then added in a quiet voice, "If we do operate, we cannot guarantee getting all the affected tissue, so - from Ironhorse's point of view - capturing an alien is by far the best option we have of finding a cure."

General Wilson thought about it for a short while, then said, "I agree with Dr Mitchell and feel that the colonel's best chances lay in the operation - and that needs to be done soon..." He was interrupted by a knock at the door.

At the call of "Enter", Derriman opened the door. He looked pale and nervous.

"Well, Sergeant?" Wilson asked, knowing that they would not have been disturbed unless it was important.

"Sir," Derriman said, licking his lips. "We've been to the safe house..."

The others in the room sat up, Harrison leaping from his seat.

"And?" enquired the general.

"I... The colonel was not there, Sir. Neither was Dr McCullough's car."

"You bastard, you had me followed," accused Blackwood, glaring at the general.

"No, Dr Blackwood, not me. Colonel Ironhorse had a homing device placed on your car about six months ago," reported the general, a frown crossing his features. Then he sighed; after all, Ironhorse was the best, what else did he really expect?

Blackwood slowly sat back in his chair, disbelief clearly to be heard in his voice. "Bastard, he bugged my car." Then he jumped up again and headed towards the door, anger in every stride.

"Dr Blackwood," General Wilson stopped him in his tracks.

"Ironhorse is missing again. I'm going to post him as AWOL and dangerous, and he will be returned to Fort Streeter as soon as he is found."

Harrison swallowed any retort he was about to make and nodded, realising that he had made a mess of the entire matter. He left the room, knowing that Ironhorse would not be found so easily this time, and a feeling of dread seeped into his soul.

***

Ironhorse could feel the pain radiating from his wounds and his one regret was that he had left the house so quickly that he had forgotten the painkillers. Even now the pulse of the torment matched his heart beat.

He staggered to a seat at the back of the depot and slouched against the hard metal. A shadow fell across him, blocking out the light. He squinted up at the offending person and was rewarded with a crooked smile from a distantly familiar face. The body crouched down in front of him and a reaching hand gently touched his face.

"Hey, Buckwheat, long time no see." A frown followed as his clothing was appraised. "I thought they paid you guys the big bucks? Man, you certainly haven't been spending it on clothes." The frown faltered as, nodding, Paul slumped into the other's arms.

He was safe now. Lococco would know what to do and, unlike Blackwood, he would not betray him. He felt strong arms go around his shoulders and cried out as his wound was caught. "Not my left side," he gasped and felt the position change.

"Can you make it out of the depot? My car's parked just across the road... I don't want to attract attention by carrying you."

"I can make it," came the determined reply. As he concentrated on putting one foot in front of the other, he heard Lococco berate him.

"Man, when you go on these binges I always have to search the city to find you. Well, once you've slept this one off, that's it. No more, if you get drunk any more, then it's down to you to get yourself home."

He felt the cold air on his face at the same time as his knees buckled, then he was being lifted up and carried. The utter feeling of despair was replaced by a tiny flicker of hope.

***

Blackwood sat at his desk, he was not sure what else he could do. He had been going out with the Omegans for the last five days and, although Suzanne's car had been found near the bus depot, there was still no sign of the colonel. It was almost as if he had disappeared off the face of the planet. The implications of that thought caused a shiver of fear to ripple down his spine. The door opened and Mrs Pennyworth looked in. "Telephone call for you," she said with a smile.

Blackwood looked up, surprised. Then, jumping up, he rushed to the phone. Most of their calls came through Norton and the computer, from a number of phones that has been set up to divert the calls. There were very few people who actually knew the outside line of the Cottage. Very few, but Paul Ironhorse was one of them.

His hand shook as he reached for the receiver. "Hello," he said, his voice deep and reassuring. If it was Ironhorse, Blackwood knew he had a hell of a lot of ground to make up.

"Hey Buckwheat," came the reply from a voice he did not recognise.

"Who is this?" he questioned, anger filtering into his voice. He had been so sure.

"You don't know me, but," a pause, "let's just say that we have a mutual friend who is not too hot at the moment."

"You know where Paul is?" he asked, his hopes flaring anew.

"Hold on there, Buckwheat, I didn't mention any names." The voice had a hint of steel, and Blackwood knew that he would have to tread carefully if he wanted to get to his friend.

"Okay, I'm sorry. How can I help you?"

The voice on the other end of the phone came back, relaxed once again. "He keeps mentioning your name and, well, he's told me some things that are mighty hard to believe." Again, a pause. "He wants to capture something and I think we'll need your help to do it."

"I'll do anything I can to help, but first I must see him... check that he is alright."

"Well, we have a problem there, you see." Again, the pause that said so much. "He no longer trusts you and, seeing as how they have him listed as AWOL, he's a bit nervous about meeting with you at the moment."

"I'll come on my own and on your terms," Blackwood said without hesitation.

"And what if he's... one of them?" the voice put in with deceptive calm.

Blackwood felt the breath catch in his throat. He swallowed hard as he replied, "In that case, you would have attacked the Cottage and not made this call. If Paul is one..." he found it hard to say the words, "...of them, then the Project is already compromised."

There was a long silence at the other end of the phone while the person considered his reply. Blackwood found he was biting his lip in frustration. This person knew where Ironhorse was and, without his help, Blackwood might not find his friend until it was too late.

"Alright, here's what I want you to do. But I'll be watching and, if you're followed or tagged, then you won't hear from me again... or Paul," he added for good measure.

Grabbing a pen that lay beside the phone, Blackwood made some notes. As he finished, he considered telling the others but then shook his head; they would never allow him to go on his own and he knew that, if he did not follow the voice on the phone's directions to the letter, he never would see Paul again.

***

Harrison had been waiting on the corner for the last hour and still no sign of his contact.

He had replaced the phone on its cradle, returned to his office, wrote a quick note for the others telling them that he was hoping to find Ironhorse then, picking up his coat and taking Suzanne's car, had left the Cottage. It had been easy, really: everybody was so concerned about finding Ironhorse that no one thought to prevent him leaving the grounds.

That had been a few hours ago and he had spent the last sixty -he glanced at his watch - seventy-five minutes waiting on the corner. He stamped his feet, trying to stop the cold from seeping deeper.

A car pulled up against the kerb and a man leaned out of his window and said, "Get in."

Blackwood rushed over to the passenger side and climbed in. The car was moving before he had sat down. "How is he?" He asked the upmost question in his mind.

He was rewarded with a long sideways glance, but no answer. The man was intent on watching the traffic about them, and he hopped lanes a few times to see if they were being followed. Upon reaching a set of traffic lights, he did an illegal U-turn and, picking up speed, turned a corner sharply.

After driving like that for a few minutes he seemed satisfied that they were not being followed. Reaching up he removed a long dark scarf. Holding it out to Blackwood, he said, "Put this on."

"I'm not that cold." Blackwood tried to say it with a smile but it fell short.

The look he received was ice cold. "Your eyes, Buckwheat, over your eyes."

"Is this really necessary?" he questioned, looking from the scarf to his driver.

"Depends," came the short reply.

Blackwood sighed and tied the scarf about his face. He knew that he really had no choice; if he wanted to see Ironhorse, he would have to follow this man's direction. "Happy?" he grumbled, lowering his hands.

"Very," came the reply, but the voice did hold a hint of humour. The drive continued in silence for the next thirty or forty minutes. Harrison knew that they were taking a very detoured route by the amount of corners they turned, and the way the driver picked up and dropped speed. Whoever this man was, Blackwood had to admit he was good... but, then, would Ironhorse turn to someone who was not?

The car pulled to a sudden stop and the voice advised, "We're here, you can take the scarf off now."

He reached up and snatched the blindfold off and squinted a few seconds as his eyes adjusted to the light. He could see that they were in a very run-down part of town, and the building they had stopped by was a very delapidated hotel. He was not able to make out the name, nor could he see a street sign.

His door was opened and the man waited for him to leave the car then, slamming the door, he preceded Blackwood into the hotel. He did not acknowledge the man waiting at the reception desk, and Blackwood got the idea that this was not the sort of hotel that asked too many questions.

The room was on the third floor and Blackwood wrinkled his nose at the stench of the hallway. He hoped that Ironhorse's room was in better condition than the corridor. He looked up at the ceiling and noticed that the dirty effect was emphasised by the low wattage bulb that hung in the naked socket. He stepped over some rubbish and hurried to catch up with his guide.

Upon entering the room, he squinted again. The lighting in the rooms was the same as in the hallway, and the fact that there was a window did not offer any extra light due to the dirt that covered it.

"Roger?" queried a deep voice from a chair in the corner of the room.

"Here, Buckwheat," came the quick reply. The man moved to his friend and, kneeling down, reached out to him.

"Did you get it?" came the pain-filled question.

Roger dug into his pocket and withdrew a few needles and vials, then he spent the next few seconds preparing an injection, which he applied with deft ease.

Blackwood watched it all with a growing sense of horror. The man sitting in the chair was Ironhorse. Although he looked slightly better than the last time he had seen him, there was still an air of defeat about the soldier.

Blackwood saw his friend begin to relax as the injection started to take effect.

"What was in that?" Blackwood asked, moving further into the room. The effect on Ironhorse was spontaneous. He made to leap up but, catching his shoulder, he slipped back into the chair.

"What the hell is he doing here?" Ironhorse gritted at Roger, who just reached out a hand to steady him.

"If we're to capture an alien, we'll need his help." The reply was spoken with calm and authority.

"Damn you, Roger, he can't be trusted." Ironhorse spat the words out, his feeling of betrayal clear, and it cut into Blackwood like a knife.

As he advanced towards his injured friend he pleaded, "Paul, please, Suzanne thinks there might be another way. Do you remember the aliens in Canada? Their bodies didn't dissolve. She believes electricity may be the answer."

He saw hope in the eyes, and watched it die as realisation crept in that the humans had also died. Without knowing how much would need to be inducted into the body, there was no way of knowing if the level would be too high for the human body to stand.

Leaning back, Ironhorse smiled. "Nice try, Harrison, but I think I'll stick with my own plan for now."

"Paul you're not fit enough to take on the aliens, and Wilson will not allow you to, anyway."

"We weren't about to ask his permission," put in Lococco, giving Ironhorse's hand a light squeeze. Standing up, he picked up the bag he had brought with him and began to empty it. "I picked up some soup, feel up to trying some?"

Ironhorse looked at his friend and realised that, with Roger Lococco it was not really a request. "Okay," he conceded. The drug was now in his system and he felt better. He leant back and closed his eyes.

Blackwood watched him for a few moments and moved over to stand beside Lococco. "You gave him morphine," he accused the other man.

"It helps, and it was all I could get at such short notice." "He needs proper medical attention," snapped back the astrophysicist.

Lococco stopped what he was doing and spun to confront the other man. "What he really needs is a friend, and you sure let him down in that department."

"I want him alive," Blackwood shot back. Lococco's words had bitten deep.

Pure anger flared in the other's eyes. "He wouldn't want to live like that." He pushed past Blackwood and placed the soup upon the one electric ring.

"I don't want to fight you..." began Blackwood.

Lococco interrupted him, "Great, then we'll get along fine." Blackwood felt his own anger rise as he went on, "...but Ironhorse needs more help than either you or I can give him." He suddenly found himself stumbling backwards as a solid finger was jabbed into his chest and a cold voice hissed at him, "Listen to me, Buckwheat, you want to walk out of that door, fine. Me and Paul will be out of here in five minutes flat and you would never, I mean never, find us again." He stopped and, taking a deep breath, continued, "Or you could just settle down and give us the help we need." Roger spun around and stirred the soup, his anger gone just as suddenly as it had come.

Blackwood looked at the man who stood before him. There was a kind of coiled-cobra feeling about him: he was tall and handsome, with curly hair, and he was quick to smile, yet Blackwood noted that it never quite made it to his eyes. This was a very dangerous man, Blackwood knew that, and he also knew that he was devoted to Ironhorse... and that alone spoke of a special kind of loyalty. Not many people would have believed Ironhorse about the aliens, yet Lococco not only believed him, he was prepared to try and capture one of them.

Sighing in defeat, Blackwood finally asked, "What's your plan?"

Pouring the soup into a chipped bowl, he handed it to Blackwood. "First, you try to get as much of this down his throat as you can, then we talk." So saying, he disappeared into the bathroom and closed the door. As Blackwood moved towards Ironhorse, he heard the shower.

He pulled up the only other chair in the room and, sitting down, said, "Here try this... careful it's not too hot." He held the bowl while Ironhorse took the spoon.

Ironhorse looked at him with suspicion. "Why did Roger bring you here?" he questioned between small sips.

"I don't know, he said we would talk after you've eaten this." Ironhorse nodded and took another spoon of soup. Blackwood felt a moment of jealousy at Paul's acceptance, it showed a total trust in the other man, a trust that he had once held towards Blackwood. "Who is he?" he asked, steadying the bowl.

"A friend," came the short reply. The tone of voice denied any further questions.

Blackwood watched Ironhorse. He was pleased to see that there was a bit more colour in the other's face, but Blackwood knew that this was mainly due to the morphine. It concerned him to think that Ironhorse was using such an addictive drug to counter his pain but, like Lococco had said, it was all he could buy on the street... the alternative was hard drugs, and that would not do any of them any good.

"How's the shoulder?"

Ironhorse glanced up then, deciding he had eaten enough, placed the spoon back in the half-empty bowl that Blackwood was holding. "It has its moments, but the morphine helps."

"You could become dependent upon that, you know," Blackwood cautioned quietly, not wanting to start another argument.

"I'll worry about that later... if I live that long," smiled the other man. "It's not that strong a dose, it just takes the edge off the pain and allows me to think straight." Seeing the concern in his friend's face, he reached out his good hand and gripped the tense shoulder. "Roger knows what he's doing, he would never let me have that much."

"You know Suzanne is pretty sure about..." He never finished.

"For God's sake, Harrison, let it be. You and I both know that my best chance lies with capturing an alien."

"We've been trying for the last two years, what makes you think we're going to succeed now?" Blackwood snapped back, frustration welling.

Ironhorse's eyes blazed with a burning determination but, before he could answer, a voice from the bathroom door replied, "'Cause you've never had me to help you before, Buckwheat."

Ironhorse let out a bark of laughter and, grimacing at the pain this caused, went on, "That's for sure."

Blackwood looked from one to the other then, realising that they were determined, replied, "We're going to have to get Norton's help. We have no way of tracking the aliens... we need his equipment."

"That's fair, can he be trusted? Will he tell Wilson?" Roger questioned.

Ironhorse thought about it for a few minutes before answering, "He might not - if Harrison asked him not to, but Suzanne would definitely tell her uncle. She..." He stopped, but Blackwood finished the sentence.

"She cares too much to lose you. God Paul, so do I. Can't you see that this is madness?" he tried one more time.

Ironhorse looked at him, his eyes just as full of pain as Blackwood's. "I don't have a choice. If there was another way..."

"Damn it, there is! Give us the opportunity to test the electricity theory. If it works, we could just kill the affected area, not the nerves." He went to his knees before the wounded man. "At least give us a chance. We do know that the infection is spreading, and the longer you leave it the more tissue will be affected."

Ironhorse looked towards Lococco who just shrugged. "It's your ball game, Paul. I'll stand by whatever you decide."

Both men could see the uncertainty cross the pale face. Slowly he shook his head. "I'm sorry, Harrison, I just can't go back to wait in a hospital room. At least this way I'm facing death on my own terms, I'm in control. Back there..." He shook his head again. "Here I have my dignity." He reached out a hand, trying to make Blackwood understand. Seeing his pain reflected in the other's eyes, he finally relented. "If we fail, then I'll go back with you, but you have to give me that chance. Surely our friendship is worth that?"

Blackwood closed his eyes tight against the tears that threatened to fall, Ironhorse had used the one argument he could not fight. Finally he agreed, but added, "If we fail, you will do this my way?"

"Yes," came the quiet reply.

"Promise me," Blackwood demanded.

Ironhorse met his gaze and, smiling gently, he added, "I promise."

Blackwood swallowed hard. He knew that he had passed beyond the point of no return. To keep Ironhorse at his word, he would have to assist the other man in his crazy plan. Standing up, he said, "I'll contact Norton. There has been some alien activity, hopefully he'll be able to give us a location."

"You can use the phone down the block. It will be safer than using the one here," Lococco said.

"You'd better go with him, Roger," Paul stated, standing up. "I'm still assigned to protect him and the last thing I need right now is Blackwood getting mugged on the way to the phone."

"Will you be alright?" Lococco asked before Blackwood could.

Cautiously moving to one of the beds, he sat down. "I'm going to catch some sleep. I get the feeling it's going to get busy over the next few hours."

Roger motioned Blackwood towards the door and slipped into his own jacket. Ironhorse's voice stopped him in his tracks. "Don't forget to take the morphine with you."

Lococco nodded and, moving across, scooped up the vials of drug and slipped them into his pocket. Seeing Blackwood's confused look he stated, "In Vietnam, most of the guys could handle it as long as the dosage was strict... but you leave sweets within reach of a child and the kid's bound to get a sweet tooth." He smiled as he spoke, but the implications were clear.

Blackwood took a deep breath and let it out slowly, then, turning, he followed the other man from the room.

***

End Part 1

And Hell Followed With Him Index On to: And Hell Followed With Him Part 2


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